Former two-time heavyweight champ Tim Witherspoon celebrates his 65th birthday today. The Philly warrior with the jack-hammer right hand, the constantly reliable chin and the full gas tank, got out of the sport in one piece; with “Terrible Tim” having also survived the so-called ‘Lost Generation of Heavyweights,’ this the 1980s, a decade that gobbled up a number of talented big men who, like ‘Spoon held the belt or belts for less time than should have been the case.
Witherspoon had some bad nights at the office, for sure – see his almost inexplicable defeat at the hands of Bigfoot Martin, his famous one-round loss to Bonecrusher Smith (this in a return meeting, Witherspoon having handily beaten Smith in a previous fight), and his out of shape, title-losing fight with Pinklon Thomas – but at his best, Tim was a most formidable fighter.
Witherspoon, after a mere six amateur fights, went pro at age 21 and, in just his 16th pro fight, “Terrible Tim” (the nickname handed to him by the one and only Muhammad Ali, with whom a young Witherspoon sparred at Deer Lake) gave defending heavyweight champ Larry Holmes sheer hell. The 12 round split decision that saw Holmes retain his WBC and Ring Magazine titles could so easily have gone Witherspoon’s way.
Having been matched hard and fast in his formative pro years – Witherspoon having beaten Alfonzo Ratliffe and Renaldo Snipes prior to the Holmes fight – Tim would go on to show some major longevity. In his second shot at a world title, Witherspoon edged Greg Page to take the vacant WBC belt, and in 1999, Witherspoon fought Page in a veteran’s rematch. In-between then, Witherspoon lost to Thomas, he defeated Tony Tubbs to become a two-time champ, he smashed Frank Bruno in London, and Witherspoon lost the WBA strap (some say on purpose) to Bonecrusher.
Looked at as ‘ruined’ after the shock loss to Smith, Witherspoon instead fought on for some 17 years! Witherspoon never got another shot at a world title, but he did score important wins over the following few good men: Anders Eklund, Jose Ribalta, Carl Williams, and Al Cole.
Witherspoon wasn’t always in top fighting shape, yet he was often able to get by on guile and experience even when lugging excess pounds around. Stopped just four times in 69 fights, it was a rare thing when Witherspoon’s chin let him down. Witherspoon had his famous legal battle with Don King to go with his numerous ring encounters, and Tim’s story is a most interesting one.
Today, having retired at 55-13-1(38) in 2003, his faculties and health intact, Witherspoon has tried his hand at training fighters, he has done some punditry work, and ‘Spoon often shows up at events and gatherings. Looking far younger than his 65 years, Tim successfully navigated the dangers, the potential pitfalls and the temptations the sport of boxing can throw before a successful fighter.
Tim has some career to look back on. Here’s hoping this often underrated Philadelphia fighter has a happy birthday.